We have been discussing Holocaust issue with a CIH reader, Sheila Novitz. Sheila lost many family members in the Holocaust. She has provided us an asessment of how difficult it was for a small, mimority to resist the NAZIs. Before the killing began there was a well planned process of demeaning, inpoversing, and isolating the Jews which Sheila explains to us.
We were discussing Jewish resistance. You mentioned that, given the vast scale of the Holocaust, you thought there was remarkably little resistance, and gave some reasons that occurred to you. One issue that I think had to be responsible for non-resistance was the way the Nazis went about the whole thing. Step by step. First the humiliations, then the deprivations, then the stripping of citizenship, careers, jobs, then the stripping of belongings such as bicycles, radios, then the whole thing of not being allowed into cinemas, concerts, parks, restaurants and other public places. By 1939 the Jewish people had to be feeling absolutely wretched, totally inferior, hopeless, useless, confused, frightened - and afraid to be angry, because in their hearts they still hoped. Hoped that the Germany they'd thought they belonged to would return.
OK. They felt like that. Then came the gradual deportations, say, from Berlin; then the ghettoisations; then starvation, illness, weakness, in the ghettos of Eastern Europe, surrounded by fences or walls, and strong, healthy, armed German and Ukrainian, Latvian, Lithuanian guards. They couldn't rebel; they couldn't resist. Partly because against weaponised enemies they would inevitably fail; partly because starvation, constant fear, constant bewilderment made them apathetic; certainly partly because they feared, really feared, that any resistance would lead to punishment and make their situation much worse. And partly because, sadly, they still hoped. Could not really believe what was happening. Which goes, of course, to what you said about many of them not knowing where and to what the trains were taking them.
Another Nazi tactic was brilliantly evil. Take, for example, the Warsaw ghetto (they did this in most ghettos, of course): They would issue work cards, and those Jews who held them felt they were safe from deportation. Suddenly they would find that the cards had to be a different colour; they were no longer safe with their present cards. Rushed to try and get new ones before they could be deported. This happened again, and again, and again, setting Jews against each other; giving them hope one minute, and despair the next. They basically didn't know what was happening - how could one possibly gather the energy or forces for resistance? If I had been under Nazi domination for less than a week in, say, Birkenau, I would have curled up in a little Jewish ball and died. That so many of my people just lived, just survived, is an amazement to me.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the gradual accumulation of evils, of horrors, of humiliation, degradation, illness, starvation, the unknown, loss of everything - well, one would have to be VERY strong to be able to mount a resistance. That there was some resistance is to me a miracle in itself.
You mention that the Ukrainian guards did not train so as to kill Jews. [CIH note: Actually my point ws thgat they were not told in the recruitment process that they main piurpose was to kill Jews, but rather to serve as a security frce.] I went to Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men : Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. It's a horrible book, but very good indeed. It gives me a good idea - now that you've said the Ukrainians did not train so as to kill Jews - how ordinary men/women can quite rapidly become accustomed to brutality, and how they can even get to like killing. Because, as I'm sure you know, the Ukrainian guards at Treblinka and Sobibor very quickly became brutal. As naked Jews were being made to run along the "Himmelstrasse", they stabbed them with bayonets, beat them with whips, and even grabbed & raped young girls. The "Road to Heaven" was covered in blood after each gassing, and quickly had to be re-covered in sand.
So I've always thought that those "Hilfswilligers" (Lithuanians and Latvians) and the Ukrainians who trained at Trawniki became involved because they liked the idea of killing Jews. You're helping me to look at another side: The Nazis occupied their countries; they needed work in order to survive. I understand that, but one can only wish that becoming "involved" didn't have to mean such gross collaboration, such terrible cruelty to people already condemned.
I take your point also about the Jewish policemen in the ghettos. Have to admit it took me a long time to understand that this DID actually happen; the Jewish policemen did exist, did often betray their own people, looked out only for themselves. So you're equating them with the Ukrainians who needed work in order to survive. It's almost a valid point, except that I don't think the Jewish policemen could possibly have killed their own people. But then, perhaps they did... Very difficult for me!
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